I can understand how one might roll their eyes at these words on this page while thinking, “Oh, another temper tantrum from a kid.” But this wail is different than a cajoling or manipulative wail. This is the sound of sheer terror. The pit of darkness. The thick woods of deepest night.
It is also the sound of pure emotional meets physical meets mental exhaustion.
The triumvirate directs the dive.
After a few moments of my eyes on the Zoom screen but my heart cast into the next room with my daughter, I tell my Racial Affinity Group* that I need to step away for a few minutes. This terrified, cornered animal needs me more. She needs me most.
I walk in and sit down beside her on the bed. “Can I touch you?”
A barely perceptible nod. She trembles, she heaves, she gasps for breath, her body convulses, tears stream down her red face from her saucer like eyes. Her gaze no sooner finds me than tears away to look at something more solid. Less unpredictable than a human. The soft quilt on top of her bed, or the solid wall behind her, or the flat plane of the clean white ceiling above.
She writhes and moans. In our ancestors’ time, someone might have called her possessed. I call her a feeler. Of big stuff. Of the world inside her little paper skin and bird bones. It twirls and dances and every once in a while it also winds like vines around those bones. She gets caught. Even as another wind of intensity blows in through her pores, she clamps down. This armor she adorns locks tighter around her, the pressure builds, it inches toward explosion…
With no way out.
A dragon. Born free and flying this way and that. Heat on her bare back. She is riding it, this dragon. It is terrifying as she dips and dives.
Trust her. I must trust her.
I know this place.
You see, I am a dragon rider too.
I am a feeler. I am “emotional.”
I am emotion-all.
I am made up of them all.
And so, I feel them all. Deeply and richly, emotions coarse through me.
So they do in my children. So they do in my Ru.
“Ruthie, you feel a dragon inside of you right now. It is real and it is huge. And you’re doing a great job being with it. I’m here with you.” I sit. I watch. I feel me while she feels her. My hand lightly upon her leg.
Her eyes connect with mine but she is still in a twist, a violent fight for air above the thrashing waters in her mind and heart. My voice comes out steady and clear. I speak to her whole being, not just her eyes. “I will come back Ru. You can say anything you want to me or to Daddy, you can throw anything, you can do anything, you can hit anything and I am still coming back. When my call is done at 9:00, I will come back here. Do you understand?”
She holds my gaze. She nods.
A solidity begins to return to her liquid self.
I can feel it coarse through me as well.
The ground is returning for this little being.
“Do you want me to get you Foster to cuddle and my soft blanket for while I am gone?”
She tries out her remembered voice, “Yes. And could you open my door?”
I nod. “Should I turn on your birds sound to keep you company?”
Her head moves gently up and down.
I open the door and see her big brother standing there. I ask him if he’d be willing to come sit with her. This trembling, recovering dragon rider.
“Yeah, of course. Can I bring my book?” he asks with the alertness of a meerkat. Ready to sit vigil by his warrior sister is this warrior prince.
He goes in. I bring my childhood polar bear in the red striped sweater, Foster. The soft blanket that my sister gave me three Christmases ago. I kiss Ru. With all of my love and my heart, I kiss this warrior princess on the forehead. She sighs gently and allows the bed to accept her more deeply. More lovingly into its give.
An hour later, when my call is complete, I return to her room.
“Did the dragon move through?” I ask. She shrugs and gives me a side eyed glance so I continue, “I guess it is back in the egg now, huh?”
“No,” she says with her eyes directly on mine, “it’s back in its cave.”
She smiles. A perfect hint of lilt to the lifting corners of her mouth.
“You did a great job, Ru. The dragon is big and scary when it flies inside. I feel it too sometimes. What helped you when it was flying around?”
The quiet timid voice creeps toward me, “Having three people around me – you, Daddy, and John. And my door open. Because I get scared when it’s closed.”
“mmm…” I nod. “I feel so alone when the dragon flies in me. I’m glad you know that having others close by helps you be with it.”
She is clear on this.
This point is important, you see.
We are. Together. She and I. (You and me. Them and us.) Feeling the world take its hits. Letting them build up. Using this game changing power we have. The power to feel. Harnessing the invisible, wing flapping, tree crashing creature that can fly through uncharted waters and over unmapped lands of our inner (and outer) terrain.
We have work to do, these little feelers and I.
I will not shut them down.
I will learn their craft and we will fly together.
We have work to do.
For this big, bold, beautiful, broken world.
May we each do our work in our very own fire breathing, scaled belly, dipping diving and free falling kind of way.
Ride high and rest low, fellow dragon rider.
Take good care,
*As outlined in Ruth King’s exceptional book Mindful of Race, a small group dedicated to investigating and transforming our individual and collective racial habits of harm.